While wooden boat hull maintenance is mostly straightforward, it is always a good idea to take expert advice on any repair job needed doing to a wooden boat, unless you have done the job before and know what you are doing.
The good news is that carrying out minor repairs on a wooden hull is usually not too complicated. All that is required are some basic woodworking skills including knowing how to use chisels, planes and saws correctly.
Removing and replacing a broken or rotten plank
So, although the thought of replacing a broken or rotten plank may seem daunting at first, this should be within the capabilities of a reasonably practical boat owner who understands the process involved.
It always pays to plan a wooden hull repair carefully, checking out exactly what timbers need to be removed and how to go about the task. You will need to source suitable replacement timber and ensure you have all the right tools for the job, including sharpened chisels, planes and saws. It is also important to check where the old planking is fastened, marking all the fastenings around the area being repaired. You will also need to make sure you can access the planking from inside the hull.
If you get the chance, you can learn a lot by watching a repair being carried out. I came across these two fishermen mending their boat on a beach in Myanmar. The bottom of their boat had been holed by some rocks.
First, they removed the damaged planking and pulled out some of the caulking that needed replacing.
Then they took measurements, cut some new planking and planed the new planks smooth.
The fishermen made some adjustments to ensure the new planks fitted precisely, then fixed them in place with copper nails.
Once all the new planks were fitted and nailed in place they primed the new timbers and left for the day.
The next day they applied undercoat to the hull and tapped in new caulking along the seams. More coats of paint followed which quickly dried in the hot sun. They lost out on two days fishing but were soon back out on the water.
Wet and dry rot
Wooden boats are at risk from two types of rot – wet rot and dry rot. Both are types of fungal decay and can easily spread throughout a boat if it is not looked after. Wet rot develops when unprotected wood remains continually in contact with moisture. Dry rot develops when unprotected wood is in contact with moisture, then dries out, then gets wet again, then dries and so on.
The only proper remedy for rot is to remove it completely and then patch in a new piece of timber or fill the void, if appropriate and small enough, with a suitable epoxy putty.
The early warning signs for rot are blistering or flaking paint and a dull, soft sound produced when tapping along the hull with a plastic mallet. A clear, higher pitched sound indicates the timber is in good condition.
In summary, while carrying out minor repairs to a wooden hull is usually not that taxing, carrying out major repairs is another story. Fathoming out and assessing exactly what needs doing, the materials required and how to carry out the repair invariably calls for some expert advice and advanced skills. Very few boat owners are shipwrights with decades of experience and our DIY skills might only be based on woodworking courses we did way back in the distant past.